Publication: Business Day Issued: Date: 2003-09-11 Reporter: Xolela Mangcu

Masters of Political Diversion do SA's Revolution No Favours



Business Day

Date 2003-09-11


Dr Xolela Mangcu

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Mac Maharaj has long been in the business of calling people spies. According to my very informed sources in the African National Congress (ANC), it was Maharaj who started the vicious rumour that Steve Biko was a spy and that the black consciousness movement was a third force sponsored by the US's Central Intelligence Agency.

When Maharaj repeated that allegation to Neville Alexander in Europe, Neville told him where to get off, in language cruder than can be printed here. Good for you, Neville.

However, the rumour was recycled throughout the 1980s, and more often than not became the basis of internecine violence between supporters of the ANC and black consciousness movement. Many young people lost their lives in the wake of that rumour. The question must then be asked what moral culpability does Maharaj bear for the deaths of those young people? Or is that too much to ask of a communist posing for a CNN advert praising the Economist, invoking the name of Mandela in the process "When I was in prison with Nelson Mandela the only publication we had access to was the Economist" he drones off in one of the most embarrassingly cynical manipulations of Madiba's name.

By the way, I was with Madiba the other day to present Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiongo. He spoke of the need to recognise all of our political formations in the liberation movement, especially the Azanian People's Organisation and the Pan Africanist Congress. "We all contributed to the struggle," Mandela said with his incorruptible generosity. Ngugi thanked Mandela for the moral leadership he has provided to the world, and the inspiration he has been to the black world at large. But no sooner had Mandela stepped out of office than some of the leaders of his party started to undermine that moral leadership.

Why, though, would Maharaj seek to impugn one of the most revered and selfless heroes of the liberation movement, Steve Bantu Biko? Biko was getting closer to Oliver Tambo and the nationalists in the ANC in the 1970s. Maharaj and the communists, who had long dominated the ANC, felt threatened by the impending loss of control of it. Maharaj is thus an old hand at character assassination for the sake of political survival.

Which brings me to the question of why the rumours about Bulelani Ngcuka are only surfacing now that Maharaj, Deputy President Jacob Zuma and the Shaik brothers are in the midst of corruption allegations. Also, if the ANC had this information on Ngcuka, why would they then elevate him to the strategic post of literally being the attorney-general of our land?

And so what if Ngcuka was a spy? Does that make Maharaj, Zuma and the Shaiks any less corrupt if the allegations are indeed true?

Unfortunately, we South Africans have become masters of the politics of diversion and attacking the messengers. It is interesting to watch the denial of the existence of racism in the Springbok rugby team. But it is also important that a white South African, Mark Keohane, is the one to reveal this culture, although he and his boss Rian Oberholzer are now being vilified.

Black South Africans are not any less denialist, putting our heads in the sand because of a supposed white bogey. But when are we ever going to stop being schizophrenic about white people, and start behaving like the people in power that we really are?

This is not to say racism does not exist. The rugby case demonstrates very well that this scourge continues to eat away at the fabric of our society. But for God's sake, racism cannot explain everything, including thuggery among our own people.

The question facing us black people is whether we are going to allow the crooks to define who we are, in the name of black solidarity. Are we going to allow rumour-mongering to define and debase our political discourse ?

Now to a more uplifting story. Tomorrow night the great African writer Ngugi wa Thiongo will give the Steve Biko Memorial Lecture at the University of Cape Town's Jameson Hall. There could not have been a more propitious time for Ngugi to come to SA, given that his most famous books, especially Devil on the Cross, were about the scourge of corruption in post-independent Africa.

One would hope the lecture would be a moment of collective public learning a moment to reflect on our consciousness and collective conscience as a people.

I have not seen Ngugi's speech but its title is pregnant with suggestions Consciousness and African Renaissance SA in the Black Imagination. It suggests there is much the world expects from us, not the crooked ways of some of our so-called revolutionaries.

Mangcu is executive director of the Steve Biko Foundation.

With acknowledgements to Mangcu and Business Day.